Longform

Breach of Faith

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Though no one was ever arrested for the crime, Milian is convinced law enforcement agents knew who the perpetrators were and were unwilling and/or unable to make a case against them.

Among his supporters in those days -- and a putative terrorist target himself -- was businessman Jorge Mas Canosa. After the bombing, Mas bought an armored Mercedes. He and Milian went into business together, as officers of Florida Security Agency (incorporated in 1977), and of Fabulosa Land Company (formed in 1979). The friendship soured after about five years, Milian says, because Mas was unwilling to compromise and acted dictatorially. In 1981 he founded CANF, after which WQBA and Radio Mambi became virtual soapboxes for the self-made millionaire, who delivered regular harangues and detailed his plans for a free Cuba -- which some speculated would include a Mas presidency. (Mas was out of town and could not be reached for comment for this story.)

About a year after the bombing, when Milian went back to work at WQBA, general manager Herb Levin was leery of a return to the inflammatory on-air exchanges that had been Milian's trademark. There would be no direct, live contact with listeners, Levin declared. Milian refused to comply, and Levin fired him. "He called it censorship and I called it responsibility," Levin says now. "I had a station to run, and I was concerned about his well-being and that of my 50 employees. He was very popular and was held as a hero and a martyr, and frankly I can understand his position, that he wanted to continue to be confrontational. I don't think he understood my position as a licensee, a parent, and an employer to let him go on the air and blast these terrorists."

In 1977 Milian tried to buy a broadcast license, but at the last minute the Federal Communications Commission awarded it to other investors. Seven years later, he was courted by the Voice of America to assume the directorship of newly created Radio Marti. But he resigned after less than a year, telling the press that he didn't want to move to Washington, D.C. The real reason, he says now, was his disgust over what he saw as Jorge Mas's near-total control of everything having to do with the station -- Mas's brainchild in the first place -- and the profligate spending of the millions Congress had appropriated for Radio Marti. Also in 1984 he re-applied for a broadcast license, and this time the application was granted. With wife Emma and all three children as officers, Milian's New Continental Broadcasting Corporation had its own station, WWFE-AM. Friends and other family members invested thousands of dollars in the enterprise. Emilio III, a sales manager for a pharmaceutical company with a degree in business administration from FIU, was named vice president of sales.

The 50,000-watt Radio Fe made its debut on June 8, 1989. "Welcome back, Emilio Milian. It's good that you kept the fe," concluded a June 12 Miami Herald editorial dubbing Milian "Cuban Miami's courageous voice of reason."

Radio Fe, headquartered in a renovated two-story house on Flagler Street and SW 23rd Avenue, was short of cash from the beginning. Milian couldn't afford the sorts of promotions staged by the top stations. Problems arose with contractors. In 1990 Milian obtained a two-million-dollar judgment against Broadcast Leasing, Inc., the company that had been hired to construct six broadcast towers, on the grounds that the firm had overcharged and refused to complete the work. Broadcast Leasing went bankrupt soon after, and the Milians never collected anything. Then the firm that renovated Radio Fe's headquarters sued Milian for nonpayment and won a $14,000 judgment.

In late 1989, meanwhile, ubiquitous community leader Carlos Arboleya, vice chairman of Barnett Bank, approached WWFE with the offer of a one-million-dollar loan. "We were undercapitalized," acknowledges Emilio III. "The loan gave us working capital." In December 1989 Barnett granted a $500,000 term loan and a $500,000 credit line, for which most of Radio Fe's assets were put up as collateral.

Though Radio Fe's ratings were near the bottom of the Spanish-language rankings, they did begin to improve in mid-1991, in part owing to the addition of a show entitled La Mogolla (The Mess). Written and directed by Alberto Gonzalez, La Mogolla featured biting satires of local exile leaders -- including elected officials, Arboleya, and Mas.

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Kathy Glasgow
Contact: Kathy Glasgow